Sometimes you need to be hit upside the head with the clue bat to figure some things out. I had another clinic with Pam Goodrich, my third time riding with her, and she is so good at tearing through the nonsense and locating the actual cause of a problem. I appreciate her blunt honesty and I could hear her and Trainer Z comparing notes and plans while I was riding. I'll be benefiting from her findings all winter.
This time it was straightness. Funny how I never seem to work on anything new and yet I'm always finding new things. Forward, straightness, balance. Theo's asymmetries have improved dramatically since he's been ridden by Trainer Z but he'll always have his little quirks. He likes to travel with his shoulders to the left. When it was severe, he had a four beat canter and would drag through my left arm to the point that it would fail rather than let me manage that left shoulder. His left lead canter was nice to watch but his right lead was . . . dicey. Now we have a right lead that is functional and is frankly higher quality than the left. The right is a shorter, bouncier canter that sits on his butt. The left is a bigger stride but more earth bound and heavier with hocks wanting to trail behind. We worked so hard to fix his right lead that it's now the easier one to change. The left is still his preferred lead but it is a bigger pain to adjust. Go figure.
Given the insight that the left lead, which I've called 'the good lead' for eight years, is actually now the bad lead, the difficulties in changing the lead from left to right make more sense. The canter is less balanced, more downhill. It's more difficult to change out of so Theo will cheat with that extra beat in his flying change or will bronc to get the height needed and his massive shoulders out of the way. Ugggggggh. Some of it is emotional/mental of course since he prefers his left still but more of it appears to come down to the quality of the canter.
How do we fix the left lead to get the flying change? The magic is in the counter canter. A straight, balanced horse can counter canter through pretty much anything. It's a good test since the results are very clear. I'd started doing 15m circles in counter canter to work on my anxiety with the move. During the clinic, I ended up doing a 10m turn onto centerline in counter canter to set up the half passe to the rail. Then turn back onto center line without a change of lead so still counter cantering. Holy crap. Seriously, did not know Theo could do that. I don't think Theo knew he could do that, either. Setting him up to be balanced enough to do that turn made the half passe easy and lovely.
With this new world, Trainer Z and I decided to go back and reapproach my canter and flying change set up. Oddly enough, the thing that has worked the best to help me and Theo understand what's going on is the oldy but goody: serpentine with changes of lead through the trot with less and less strides of trot. It requires a nicely balanced canter, a correct half halt that goes through, and not doing weird whacky shit with my hands. Combine this with making sure that I come in with a good head of steam and the changes are very nice. Left to right is still difficult to consistently do without a pole to make Theo remember to not do that extra step. It's just a habit at this point, he's not being naughty, it's just a valid option in his mind. It's so fast it's basically impossible to stop from the saddle so pole for repetitions and muscle memory.
Added bonus to all of this is that his canter is improving every ride. He's back in his double now that whatever was causing problems with his bridle connection has resolved on it's own. I'm loving the little bit of finesse to get his shoulders and poll up without having to put too much brain power into managing it. My brain has too much to focus on as it is, I can't be focused on making sure he's not dropping down on top of everything else. The double on it's own seems to put the idea in his head. Got some very lovely, connected trot today that felt like a million bucks.
So this winter is focused on teaching me what the right canter feels like so I can build it every time. When I have it, he bids for the change in both directions and I have to tell him to wait, not try to make him do it. It's muscle memory for both of us, repping until we both pick it up automatically. We want to go into spring with the changes being just boring for us, just another move.
Then it's show season 2024 goals: Bronze scores, Second level freestyle, and a trip to regionals. You know, little stuff.